Reference Guides for Writers: Friend or Foe?

The Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English...

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Gearin’ Up Blog Fest Question – Reference Guides are they a friend or foe?

I always thought that it was a good idea to have a dictionary and thesaurus hand when I write. Apparently there are mixed thoughts about this. So, is a thesaurus, dictionary or reference guide of any kind good to have around when writing? 

Another point made by my favorite author Stephen King:

 Never look at a reference book while doing a first draft
You want to write a story? Fine. Put away your dictionary, your encyclopedias, your World Almanac, and your thesaurus. Better yet, throw your thesaurus into the wastebasket. The only things creepier than a thesaurus are those little paperbacks college students too lazy to read the assigned novels buy around exam time. Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule. You think you might have misspelled a word? O.K., so here is your choice: either look it up in the dictionary, thereby making sure you have it right – and breaking your train of thought and the writer’s trance in the bargain – or just spell it phonetically and correct it later. Why not? Did you think it was going to go somewhere? And if you need to know the largest city in Brazil and you find you don’t have it in your head, why not write in Miami, or Cleveland? You can check it … but later. When you sit down to write, write. Don’t do anything else except go to the bathroom, and only do that if it absolutely cannot be put off. 

After reading this well-made point, I realized that he is absolutely right. I have said this before; I guess I was a little surprised when I actually read it from someone who is well known in the world of writing. I have said before to write the first draft raw. Literally throw it up on the page and then worry about making changes later. 

What are your thoughts?

25 comments on “Reference Guides for Writers: Friend or Foe?

  1. Hi Greg. I am working on not over using my various reference guides, but it’s tough since i see them sitting there calling my name. LOL!


  2. I sometimes use the thesaurus or dictionary while drafting if I can’t find the right word, or if it gnaws at me and I’m convinced that finding the right word is necessary before proceeding — like finding the right street sign before a trip can continue in the planned direction.

    But 99 percent of the time I agree with King’s advice.


  3. Ooooh, I like this. I believe in vomiting my story onto paper but never thought about the danger of overusing resources.

    You definitely have me thinking….


  4. I use the thesaurus on my laptop too…although I am trying to train myself not to worry about fixing things up as I go. I have to remind myself of what I tell my students – a first draft is called a DRAFT because it’s not your final product’


  5. Loralie, I try to do that and I can’t. LOL, it’s really hard not to correct on the first draft.


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